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Istria, Croatia is worth it whether seaside or inland

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ISTRIA, CROATIA—Spend enough time on this verdant peninsula and someone will tell you: “I have a friend here who has lived in four different countries and never moved.” A 100-year-old Istrian, for example, would be able to say that she was born in Austro-Hungary (which ended in 1918), came of age when Istria was part of Italy (until 1947), spent most of her adult years as a Yugoslavian, and, finally, starting in 1991, became Croatian.

This peninsula in the northern Adriatic is made up of about 90 per cent Croatian territory (the rest is Slovenian with a tiny sliver going to Italy). Istria may be a microcosm of 20th-century southeastern European history, but it is also a magical, 21st-century playground for those who like sun, beaches, hill towns, Roman ruins, local wine, truffles and top-notch dining. Italophiles will feel at home here as most of the population is still bilingual, speaking Italian and Croatian. The stunning seaside towns of Rovinj, Porec and Pula may attract most visitors. But the inland medieval hill towns of Motovun and Groznjan and their artsy communities and restaurants serving truffle-laden pasta dishes are certainly worth a visit.

Friday

3 p.m.: An afternoon beer soak

When the San Servolo brewery first began producing beer, or pivo, in 2013, little did anyone know that people would be soaking in it five years later. The newly opened San Servolo Resort & Beer Spa, next to the brewery, just outside the hilltop town of Buje, offers guests and non-guests the chance to have a 45-minute soak in hoppy beer while drinking unlimited amounts of lager from the bathtub-side tap. For this reason, it might be a good idea to book a room at the hotel. After a beer bath, spa guests can sweat it out in the sauna or go for a swim in the pool (which is filled with water, not beer). The spa (including the beer bath) is 525 kuna for guests (or about $82 U.S.), 700 kuna for non-guests.

6:30 p.m.: On the rocks

Hidden down some steps on the southern side of Rovinj’s Old Town is Valentino, a cocktail bar that mostly attracts a foreign clientele. The appeal here is that seating is on lounge chair cushions situated on rocks just above the Adriatic Sea. Add some cocktails and you have got a recipe for possible disaster. Yet once you take in the view and ambience, you will be happy to pay more than you like for a drink. The average drink — the Aperol spritz is very popular here — costs 90 kuna. Steer clear of the recommendations of the servers who have a proclivity for suggesting some of the most expensive options on the drinks list.

8 p.m.: Monte-astic

It’s no surprise that Croatia’s first Michelin star was awarded to Monte, a restaurant in Istria. There is the Italian influences in various pasta dishes, and the longtime emphasis here on local, artisanal products (long before it became fashionable). Monte, in the Old Town of Rovinj, is proud of its star. The restaurant makes its own olive oil (a few kilometres away, near the Lim fjord), and sends out creative Italian and Istrian-inflected dishes from one of three multicourse options that might include Adriatic tuna tartar, oxtail and lobster dumplings, and fennel ice cream. Most of the wines from the excellent list are from Istria. Six courses are 849 kuna, not including wine.

Saturday

9 a.m.: Truffle hunt

Croatia, specifically Istria, was not always on the truffle map. Italians from Piedmont would cross over the border to buy white truffles from Istrians, then quietly transport them back to northern Italy to sell them as “Italian.” But all that changed on Nov. 2, 1999, when a local Croatian truffle hunter, Giancarlo Zigante, and his dog, Diana, unearthed a nearly 3-pound white truffle, at the time the biggest one ever found. Suddenly, the world was aware that the prized white truffle could be found — and purchased for much cheaper prices — in Istria. Get a taste of these white truffles and go on a truffle hunt at Prodan Tartufi, near the town of Buzet, where the Prodan family and their dogs take visitors on an hour-long hunt and then cook up a truffle-laden meal that includes truffles with eggs, truffles with sausages, truffles with cheese and more truffles. The experience and meal costs about 475 kuna a person.

1 p.m.: Slow lunch

Housed in a 600-year-old former olive mill at what is basically a countryside intersection, the 17-seat Toklarija is one of the great Istrian dining experiences. The eccentric chef and owner, Nevio Sirotic, puts the “slow” in “slow food,” with lunches lasting for three or more hours. But the rustic, fireplace-lit dining room invites you to stay awhile. Sirotic sources nearly all his ingredients locally, including in the restaurant’s back garden. The multicourse meal might, depending on the season, include dishes such as wild asparagus salad, prosciutto-filled ravioli and a super-slow-roasted suckling pig that is so tender you can leave your knife on the table. They do not take walk-ins, so reservations are a must, as they only prepare enough food for diners they are expecting that day. The six-course tasting menu is 450 kuna.

4 p.m.: The art of the stroll

Groznjan still has an abandoned feel to it. After the Second World War, many of this hill town’s longtime residents fled for Italy, leaving few inhabitants. By the late 1960s, artists and bohemian types had settled in. Today the charmingly ramshackle village, with its chunky cobblestone lanes, is crammed with galleries. At Galerija Il Punto, artists Gordana Kuzina and Edvard Kuzina Matei sell their handmade jewelry and paintings of local land and seascapes (including images of Groznjan). “We moved here 15 years ago to sell our work,” Kuzina Matei said. “We couldn’t afford Zagreb anymore so we settled here and love it.” Galerija Gasspar sells the work of several local artists, including Burhan Hadzialjevic’s intriguing, otherworldly glass sculptures and bronze and stone sculptures by the English-born local artist Gail Morris.

6 p.m.: Getting medieval

Just 16 kilometres across the lush Mirna River Valley from Groznjan sits Motovun, possibly the most picturesque hill town on the peninsula and the birthplace of race car driver Mario Andretti. The diminutive walled town is mostly filled with shops selling local products, but it is a delightful pit stop to walk the medieval walls (20 kuna) and pick up some items. Try OPG Vivoda, just before the town gate, a small shop run by the Vivoda family who produces olive oil (one litre bottles for 110 kuna) and herb-infused brandy called travarica on their nearby farm (one litre bottles cost 130 kuna).

8:30 p.m.: Istrian sushi

Celebrating its 20th year in 2018, Damir & Ornella, in the seaside town of Novigrad, is one of the great Istrian dining experiences. The menu focuses mostly on crudo. Damir works the front room, carving up raw branzino and de-shelling scallops at a tableside cart and then sprinkling the just-pulled-from-the-sea morsels with local olive oil, squirts of lemon and dashes of salt and pepper before serving. Ornella is in the kitchen cooking up the occasional seafood-laced pasta dish. The menu changes daily based on what their fishermen catch that morning. The five-course tasting menu at this seven-table spot starts at 500 kuna a person before wine.

Sunday

9 a.m.: Beach blanket Babylon

Hit the beach in Pula. Saccorgiana, south of the city centre, is a quiet cove beach. The pebbly beach — you won’t find any sand strands around here — is more comfortable than it seems for sunbathing. There is also a waterside trampoline, and Zeppelin Beach Bar, for beer, wine and soft drinks. And there is free parking near the beach.

12:30 p.m.: Fisherman’s lunch

Set on a pleasant marina in the old fishing village of Fazana, about 8 kilometres north of Pula, Stara Konoba is a good place to sit outside and watch the boats rock and the fishermen walk by. The Old Tavern, as it is translated in English, has a menu that leans toward the sea, as one would expect. Grilled sardines, fried calamari, fish soup and pastas sprinkled with clams, mussels and shrimp are menu standouts. Expect to pay about 250 kuna a person for lunch.

2:30 p.m.: The other Colosseum

There is more than one reason to drive out to Pula at the southern tip of the peninsula but you really only need one: the first-century A.D. Roman arena is the world’s sixth largest ancient Roman amphitheatre of the more than 200 that still exist, once holding more than 20,000 gladiator-loving spectators. Its sibling in Rome may inspire more oohs and aahs because of its size and majesty but the Pula arena’s exterior ring is still fully enclosed. The entrance fee is 50 kuna. Elsewhere, the well-preserved 2,000-year-old Temple of Augustus and other ruins of Rome are scattered throughout the town. Another reason you might visit Pula: It is home to Istria’s main commercial airport.

Lodging

Hotel Lone , a 248-room property whose past life was a drab Communist-era hotel. But the talented Croatian architecture firm 3LHD got ahold of it in 2011 and transformed the property into one of the sleekest spots to lay one’s head in the country, adding clean lines and modern art installations. Some rooms have private hot tubs on balconies. Lone (pronounced Loh-nay) is about a 15-minute walk from the centre of Rovinj.

Meneghetti , is an old homestead set on 30 acres (much of which are vineyards for the property’s own wine) down an unpaved road. The nine rustic rooms and 15 suites have ceiling beams, antique furniture and wine refrigerators.

Villa Tuttorotto is a seven-room hotel smack in the centre of Rovinj’s compact Old Town. Service is attentive and warm and most rooms have a view of the sea.

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Travel & Escape

Why your hotel mattress feels like heaven (and how to bring that feeling home)

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(NC) Choosing the right mattress is a long-term investment in your health and well-being. To make a good choice for your home, take a cue from luxury hotel-room beds, which are designed to support the sound sleep of tens of thousands of guests, 365 nights a year.

“When we’re shopping for a mattress, we do lab testing, identify the best materials, bring in multiple mattress samples and have our associates test them,” explains David Rizzo, who works for Marriott International. “We ask for ratings on comfort level, firmness, body support and movement disruption. It takes 12 to 18 months just to research and select materials.”

Here, he shares his tips to pick the perfect mattress for your best sleep:

Understand your needs. People have different food and exercise preferences, as well as different sleep cycles. So, it’s no surprise that everyone has unique mattress preferences. Not sure whether a firm or a soft mattress is better? Rizzo says the best gauge is to ask yourself, “Do I wake up with aches and pains?” If the answer is no, you’re golden.

Foam versus spring. All mattresses have a core that is made up foam or innersprings or a combination of the two. Today’s foam-core mattresses contain memory foam — a material engineered by NASA to keep astronauts comfortable in their seats. It’s special because it retains or “remembers” its shape, yielding to pressure from the sleeper’s body, then bouncing back once the pressure is removed.

An innerspring mattress has an encased array of springs with individual coils that are connected by a single helical wire. This wire creates continuous movement across the coil that minimizes disruption if the mattress is disturbed, such as by a restless sleeper. According to Rizzo, the innerspring is “bouncier.”

Temperature preference. Consider how warm or cool you like to sleep, and factor in the construction of the mattress to find one with a temperature that suits you. The air space engineered into an innerspring mattress promotes ventilation, which some people find keeps them pleasantly cool. To accomplish the same purpose with a foam mattress (or the foam layer of an innerspring) it may be infused with metal, usually silver or copper, to help dissipate heat and humidity.

Need to test out the right mattress for your needs? Find the right fit during your next trip by booking your stay at marriott.com.

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Travel & Escape

How to make the most of summer travel

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(NC) One of the best parts of our short Canadian summers is the opportunity to enjoy them a little bit extra on long weekends. If you need ideas, check out these creative things to do whether you decide to stay in town or go away.

Do a dinner crawl. Pub crawls are fun for couples, friends and also families with older kids. For an exciting twist that stretches your dollars and lets you taste food from several spots before you get too full, try a dinner crawl. Eat apps at one restaurant, mains at another and dessert at another.

Go on a mini getaway. You don’t need to go very far to enjoy a vacation – exploring a Canadian city over a summer weekend is great way to treat yourself to a holiday. Whether it’s checking out the museums in Toronto or the parks in Vancouver, there’s something for everyone. For upgraded benefits, special experiences and the best rates guaranteed, join Marriott Bonvoy and book direct on Marriott.com.

Host a potluck. Perfect whether you’re staying at home or going to your cottage, gather friends and family together for some food and fun. A potluck is an easy and affordable way to host a big get-together and lets everyone try something new and swap recipes. Make the festivities extra special with a fireworks potluck, too – ask everyone to bring some fireworks or sparklers and put on a light show. Just be sure to follow local regulations for consumer fireworks.

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Travel & Escape

Lottoland: Here’s why Canadians love it!

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Lotteries have been in existence for many centuries now and it’s an open secret that most people enjoy playing a good lottery.

Asides from gauging your own luck, the thrill of playing, the anticipation of the results and the big wins every now and then is something most people look forward to. Since 1982, the lottery has been in Canada, but now there is a way to play both the Lotto and other international lotteries from Canada, all from the comfort of your home.

With Lottoland, all you need to do is register and get access to numerous international lotteries right from their website. The easy-to-use interface has all the information you need, and great amount of care has been taken to ensure that the online experience is similar—and even better—than if players were to visit each location personally.

The Powerball and Mega Millions lotteries are hitting record highs with their prize money, in what the organizers claim to be the largest jackpot in the history of the world. However, the U.S. has gambling laws that are state controlled and buying your ticket through an online broker can be considered gambling.

“No one except the lottery or their licensed retailers can sell a lottery ticket. No one. Not even us. No one. No, not even that website. Or that one,” Powerball’s website says.

Therefore, to stand a chance to win the $1.5 billion-dollar lottery jackpot it means you have to purchase your lottery tickets directly from a licensed retailer such as Lottoland.

Since 2013, Lottoland has been operating in Canada, rapidly growing in popularity amongst Canadians. Due to its easy of use and instant access to lotteries that were previously considered inaccessible—as Canadians had to travel all the way to the U.S. to purchase tickets in the past—Lottoland has attracted lots of visitors.

Currently, there about 8-million players on Lottoland, a figure that points to the reliability of the website.

One of the core values of Lottoland is transparency and that’s why a quick search on the website would show you a list of all of their winners. Recently, a Lottoland customer was awarded a world-record fee of $137 million CND.

Also, due to the incredibly slim chances of winning the grand prize not everyone would take home mega-dollar winnings, but there are substantial winnings every day.

Securing your information online is usually one important factor when registering on any platform and as the site explains, “Lottoland works very hard to verify your information.”

The site has a multi-verification process that will ensure that you confirm your identity and age before giving you a pay-out. However, in the rare case that a player has immediate luck and wins a lottery before completing the verification process, Lottoland will hold on to the winnings until they complete your verification.

While this might seem like a tedious process, it is very important as these safety features would ensure that your information wasn’t stolen and ultimately your winning routed to another account.

Lottoland is licensed with the National Supervisory Bodies For Lotteries in several countries such as the United Kingdom, Italy, Sweden, Ireland and Australia—where it is called a wagering license. Typically, most gaming companies don’t establish insurance companies as it entails that their activities have to be transparent and the must be highly reputable in the industry.

Nonetheless, Lottoland has no issues meeting up to these standards as they have established themselves as the only gaming sector company who has its own insurance company—an added advantage for new and existing users.

Lotteries aren’t the only games Canadians enjoy playing and Lottoland recognizes this by providing players with other types of gaming. As an industry leader, video designers of online games often make them their first choice when it comes to publishing their works.

Online games such as slots, blackjack, video poker, baccarat, keno, scratchoffs, roulette and many others are always on offer at the Lottoland Casino. There’s also the option of playing with a live dealer and a total of over 100 games.

Lottoland has received numerous rave reviews from its growing list of satisfied customer and their responsive customer service agents are always available to answer any questions users may have, along with solving challenges they may have encountered.

More and more Canadians are trooping to Lottoland in droves due to the unique experience of going to a casino without having to leave the comfort of their homes.

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